Primary schools would be given discretion in deciding how much time they spend teaching religion under proposals from the State agency responsible for designing curricula.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is currently reviewing how time is allocated to different subjects across the school day.

This is in recognition of longstanding complaints from teachers that the syllabus is too crowded.

Schools are legally obliged to teach what is known as 'the patron's programme' every day.

In the vast majority of primary schools that programme is religious instruction in the Catholic faith.

Current guidelines recommend that half an hour a day is spent on this.

The NCCA says it wants to give more autonomy to schools and teachers to meet the needs of school communities.

It says the State should not be involved in prescribing the amount of time spent on religion.

It is proposing that schools be given the freedom to organise 40% of the school week themselves.

This 40% would include school break times, assemblies, recreation, as well as class time including religious education.

This means that religious-run schools could dramatically reduce or increase the time they spend on religion.

The proposals are being discussed at a consultative conference being held today at Dublin Castle.

An NCCA spokesperson described the issue of religious education in the school curriculum as a "hot topic" among participants in small group discussions that took place this morning.

Some teachers attending the conference privately admitted to RTÉ News that many Catholic schools in reality already spend considerably less time on religion.